Monday, September 03, 2007

Malaysia Part 2 - Batu Caves

Photos Here

Batu caves is a Hindu shrine about 12-15 kms outside KL. I’ve been there twice – the reason being first time I had gone there, I had missed the most important feature of Batu, i.e., the Dark Caves.

The First Visit:

Saturday 25th August. I left from my hotel after lunch, alone, in the hot sun. The taxi drive to Batu caves, which should have taken 20 minutes, took more than half an hour because of a traffic jam. It turned out there had been a minor accident in the opposite lane, and hence the jam in our lane!

Anyways reached Batu around 2:30 pm. The most dominating feature of the spot is the mammoth statue of Lord Murugan. Right behind the statue one can see about 270 steps leading up to the caves. The sun was now relentlessly beating down on me, and climbing the 270 steps took some effort. The fact that the stairs are very steep did little to help. The steps are also narrow (not the stairway itself, but each step). This makes it difficult to get a firm foothold before proceeding to the next step. Adding to all the misery are the monkeys here. I have no idea how they recognize any packet containing eatables or drinks of any kind; but the monkeys just pounce upon anyone who has any eatables in their hands; and disappear with their loot. Curiously enough, they don’t inspect the bags, cameras etc.. the monkeys of the digital age seem to have evolved to learn that cameras are not eatables :D

The Batu caves are the location where the annual Hindu Thaipusam festival terminates. Thousands of devotees throng the place; and many of them undertake the climb with a whole lot of body piercings. The pictures of these piercings are really unsettling.

Upon reaching the top, you are greeted by an enormous cave; whose ceilings are over a 100 metres high. The light inside this cave is not all that bad because its mouth is very wide. All along the circumference of this cave, you see idols of Hindu gods. The diameter of this cave is like 40 meters approx. When you exit it, you ascend a short flight of steps to reach the main temple atop the hill.

However, there’s not much to do here. I just spent some time trying to get some snaps and videos; and then started my descent :)

When I was descending the stairs, I noticed one branch leading towards another cave. I went there and found a board at the entrance saying “No Admission”. So I just turned around and returned to the base. I had my food here, and then took a bus to KL.

The Second Visit:

When I reached back to the hotel and spoke to my friend who had already visited the caves, I was in for a shock – the “No Admission” cave was in fact the main attraction at Batu! This cluster of caves is known as the “Dark caves”.

There was one more guy in our group who had not been to Batu. So we decided to go there the next day.

This time too the timing was more or less the same as the previous day. We reached Batu around 2 pm. We first finished a quick tour of the temple complex, and then proceeded to the Dark Caves.

The Dark Caves:

Entry to the caves is only with an entry ticket of 35 RM per head. It is a guided tour; our guide was a Tamilian lady. This tour of the Dark caves was an experience in itsef!

The entire tour is about 2.2 km. The guide had warned us not to take photographs inside the caves, and not to touch any of the geological formations inside. We were given helmets fitted with flashlights to wear.

The first short stretch was nothing much. There was “Guano” all around – that’s bat shit. Our guide told us that the caves are full of three kinds of bats – insect-eating, nectar-eating and fruit-eating. When the cave was discovered late in the 19th Century, the Guano was dug out and sold as manure. Even today, one can see the level to which the cave had once been filled with Guano; as the marks are clearly visible on the walls. The Guano also acts as breeding ground for lots of insects, particularly cockroaches. You can see tens of thousands of them on the floor of the cave. It’s a good thing we stuck to the passage constructed for us!

Next came the various kinds of formations – stalactites (conical rock formations formed by water depositing minerals on the ground), stalagmites (upside-down conical formations formed by dripping water depositing minerals on the roof), pillars (when stalactites meet stalagmites); and a 4th type of formation whose name I forgot. I think its called a wall rock or something like that. Here, the structure emerges sideways from the wall – not from roof or floor. We were absolutely fascinated at these structures, and marveled at the way Mother Nature works for millions of years to form one such structure!

We saw various kinds of deposits around the cave – each being a different mineral. For example, the white material was calcite. I don’t remember the colours of the other minerals, but there was magnesium, sulphur, iron, copper. Some of the structures looked real powdery, while others appeared to be real smooth. It’s a pity we were not allowed to touch the formations; but I guess it is necessary to keep it that way for sake of preservation.

Our guide told us that the caves had been opened for the public a few decades back, but people drew drawings on the walls, touched and scrubbed the mineral deposits; and in general disfigured the surroundings. So, the caves were closed down until a few years back when they were again thrown open to the public.

We were shown around some more, and by then we had reached the end of the tour. We were told that trekking was permitted inside the cave but it required us to take special permissions. There is supposed to be a Communist’s kitchen somewhere deeper inside – The Communists had stayed inside the cave probably during some war period.

Pitch Black:

Well, we turned back; but on the way back was an unforgettable experience. When we reached a particular spot, our guide told us to close our eyes. The she told us to switch off our helmet lights. Then she switched off hers too and finally the big flashlight that she was carrying. And she told us “This is how the cave really looks. Open your eyes slowly”. We opened our eyes and saw …. Nothing. We were speechless. It was so damn dark, you could see nothing – as in absolutely nothing. Now I know what darkness really means. Every time I remember the experience, I get the goosebumps! Imagine being in a place where there’s not even one tiny miniscule ray of light. Normally when you close your eyes, there’s still some sort of light that you see. But here, there was nothing like that. It was almost as if having your eyes open was darker than having your eyes closed! I can rave on and on about this, so I guess I’l stop and move ahead with the rest of my life; so that you people can go ahead with the rest of yours’ :D

Well, what else? After this totally mind-boggling experience, we exited from the cave, took a taxi and headed back to our hotel!


Anonymous said...

Hey Kiran..

Once again an excellent blog.. I must say your blogging skills are increasing day by day. It seriously makes me feel that i should start blogging too.

The brief description of the stalagmites etc reminded
me of my geography lessons. Wish there too it was explained ins such simple words.. :) Keep it up!


Emma said...

Well said.

PN Subramanian said...

It was a wonderful experience experiencing what you experienced. The monkey drinking the Orange juice was so cute. There are said to be monkeys fond of beer even. Thanks.